Whenever a new Gearbox paddle comes out, I get very excited. When I first started playing pickleball a couple of years ago, the first paddle I tried was a Gearbox GX6 Power 8.5, and I've been playing with it ever since.
Gearbox paddles are manufactured to give players the utmost connection to the ball for the fast game. They are thin, edgeless, and feature a full-carbon construction, so little to no energy is lost during dwell time, which makes them excel for power, spin, and feel when hitting groundstrokes.
That's why I like my Joey Farias pro model so much; for former (and current) tennis players, Gearbox paddles perform most like a tennis racket. That said, the GX6 line had massive limitations. When it comes to touch, resets, and other shots where you're not swinging through the ball at full pace, the paddle couldn't compete with the rest of the industry, and Gearbox took note.
Gearbox replaced the GX line with their CX11 paddles, and they were far more well-rounded. The graphite was softer, the sweet spot bigger, and they were immediately more competitive in all aspects of the game. They also released a new, thicker model to go along with the CX11, the CX14.
The original CX14 was good, but it played too ambiguously between the ultimate baseline feel of a CX11 and the all-around playability of a thicker, honeycomb-core paddle.
Gearbox has elevated its 14-millimeter line with the release of the CX14 Ultimate, making the paddle one of the most well-rounded in the industry.
One of the major issues on the original CX14 was that the paddle was a bit too flimsy to compete with the best in terms of power. Because Gearbox paddles are edgeless, they pack less punch behind the ball in the form of swing weight. Couple that with the slightly more "airy" response of their thicker 14-millimeter core, and you had a paddle that wasn't powerful enough to compete with the thinner Gearbox paddles.
Gearbox has done two things to improve power on the Ultimate line: increased the swing weight and redesigned the core to give it more of a trampoline effect.
The swing weight increase just naturally makes the paddle more powerful. Of course, it takes away some maneuverability, but Gearbox paddles are so inherently maneuverable that it's still up there with the best.
The new SSTcore rib structure is designed to give the paddle more pop on impact, and it certainly does its job. That "airy" feel on the original CX14 led to a disconnect between impact and exit and made the ball lose power potential. On the Ultimate, the on-contact sensation is closer to Gearbox's thinner paddles, where the ball springs off the paddle face with loads of energy. It feels more bouncy than their thin paddles, though, more like what you get from a paddle with a honeycomb core and less of that raw, crisp response of a thin Gearbox. It makes the CX14 Ultimate a hybrid paddle in the truest sense from a power perspective.
Gearbox paddles were some of the most spin-friendly before carbon fiber top sheets became commonplace. That's part of what made me fall in love with the GX6 Power, even though the paddle had no top-sheet texture.
They are so spin-friendly because the thin, carbon construction is significantly better at maintaining the ball's energy during contact. That means if you swing fast and with a spinny stroke, the ball with exit fast and with spin; it's that simple. That said, because the original CX14 was thicker, the ball lost more energy and exited with less spin than with the thinner paddles. With the more springy and reactive core on the CX14 Ultimate, the paddle aligns closer to the spin characteristics of the brand's thinner paddles.
What's more? Gearbox has added a much more gritty Hyper-Bite 2.0 top layer to enhance spin even further, especially on slower shots. I'll maintain that Gearbox paddles have never needed that texture for spin on fast groundstrokes, but the grit does amplify spin potential when you're not smashing the ball at full speed.
Feel & Stability
Part of what makes a Gearbox paddle so addictive is the unique sensation inside the sweet spot; it feels incredibly precise and defined. The reason for that, however, is that the sweet spot is so small compared to the industry standard. Gearbox will never be able to make its edgeless, full carbon paddle sweet spots as forgiving as paddles with a honeycomb core, and that's ok, but on the original CX14, it was too unstable in stock form.
That was primarily due to the paddle's low swing weight and airy feel. You had to stabilize it with lead tape around the edge to make it forgiving enough on dinks and resets, and Gearbox took that into consideration with the CX14 Ultimate. The higher swing weight and springy response give you a more naturally stable and forgiving paddle, but I still think it lags behind the industry standard. Add a bit of lead around the edge, and that fixes the issue.
It's a perfect time to mention that Gearbox paddles are ripe for customization. Because they're so naturally quick through the air, you can add lead without sacrificing maneuverability — at least compared to other paddles in the industry — and lead makes these perform better in every metric. The CX14 Ultimate is the perfect platform paddle.
The original CX14 was meant to provide Gearbox users a more touch-oriented option. There is longer dwell time on thicker paddles, so you get more of that ability to place your touch shots mid-stroke.
The "bouncier" feel on the CX14 Ultimate does take away from a tiny bit of that dwell time, but it still feels plusher than the thin paddles in the line. Plus, the fact that the paddle is more stable and forgiving than its predecessor makes for an overall much better experience with touch.
Touch has always been the Achilles heel of an edgeless Gearbox paddle. Still, the brand is moving in the right direction, and it's an area that Gearbox fans know they will have to work on in their own game rather than expect help from the paddle.
Gearbox paddles are the most durable on the market, and it's not even close. I'm finally going through some of the carbon on the GX6 I've had for almost three years; however, the playability is still 100% the same. Expect similar levels of durability on the CX 14 Ultimate or any other Gearbox paddle.
It's funny because part of me wishes Gearbox had never added texture to their paddle faces. That's the one area that wears similarly to other paddles, and I'm not sure Gearbox should have sacrificed their paddles' consistency in the long run for a bit more spin on touch shots. I love that my GX6 plays the same way now that it did three years ago. That said, because texture wears off gradually, you won't notice a stark contrast from one day to the next, so your game will naturally adapt to the paddle's surface. The good news is that the paddle is so naturally spin-friendly without the grit that it's still elite even once it wears off.
Gearbox is getting closer to a proper hybrid paddle design that colors between the lines of its unique, thin offerings and the industry's more typical honeycomb core paddles. The CX14 Ultimate is a massive improvement in terms of stability, power, and feel compared to its predecessor. It's undoubtedly going to be a popular paddle in this ever-growing market. If you'd like to try one out, we've got the CX14 Ultimate available for demo in-store or for purchase online.